Friday Night Frights: ‘Saint Maud’ Review

Welcome to week two of the regular feature, Friday Night Frights. Each week I’ll be delving into my treasure trove of horror film reviews to recommend the perfect movie to watch in the dark. The theme for June’s picks are first-time features, and today I’ve gone for Saint Maud from director Rose Glass. Now available for on Amazon Prime, it is the absolute best time to take a trip into the twisted mind of Glass, and believe me, she has cooked up some truly horrific imagery.

A softly spoken palliative nurse, Maud (Morfydd Clark), moves into the house of a famous terminally ill dancer, Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), to help make her more comfortable in her last days. Although initially at odds, the pair soon strike up a close bond. After Maud reveals her intentions to save Amanda’s soul, this bond fractures, and Maud (with the help of God) must do everything in her power to save her charge.

Films like Saint Maud don’t come around too often. This is even more true when it is a director’s first feature film, which is exactly what this is for Rose Glass. Saint Maud is rife with rich layers, technical flourishes, and complex characters that we don’t usually see until much later on in a filmmaker’s career, if at all. She handles everything so meticulously, it’s almost as if Maud herself had a hand in the film’s creation.

It’s been a little while since I viewed Saint Maud, and I’m still struggling to fully comprehend that this is Rose Glass’ first feature film. It truly is a stunning example of film-making. The camerawork is exceptional, Glass utilises constant close-up shots on Maud, which work beautifully. In fact, Glass gets the camera in so close that Clark’s eyes appear to be almost black. Those familiar with their screen demons know that black eyes are a common trait, and it works well against all the religious imagery and themes alongside.

Morfydd Clark is sensational as Maud, playing her with such a nuanced intricacy that the audience is immediately sucked into her world. And her world it is. Maud has a very different outlook. Glass opts to insert the viewer into Maud’s world view for the bulk of the film, with ‘reality’ only smashing through momentarily here and there. These sudden bursts are cleverly placed, kept short – just a frame or two – and the jar snaps the focus for just a second. The juxtaposition of some of the shots are so unexpected that they’ll have you jumping out of your skin. That is how you do a jump scare. Clark’s performance is oddly still, Maud coming across like a tightly coiled cobra, the audience constantly waiting for her to strike. Clark is so convincing as the highly strung Maud that not only can you see it on display, the tension permeates through the screen and the viewer also starts to feel the effects.

Similarly, Ehle gives an exceptional turn as Amanda. It’s a tough role and one that doesn’t get as much screen time as Maud. Ehle makes the most of every second and easily conveys a quiet vulnerability hidden under a mask of bravado. There’s also a great interplay between both women, and this is one film that most definitely passes the Bechdel test.

At only eighty-five minutes long, Saint Maud does, at times, feel a little rushed. Given its rather short run time, Glass stuffs in a lot of story. From a narrative perspective, Saint Maud offers a treasure trove of richness for the audience to devour. In addition to all the philosophical musings on dying and religion – Maud believing that God is using her as a conduit to do His work – the whole film is shrouded in mystery. We learn that Maud used to work in a hospital environment, but we’re never explicitly told exactly what happened. We learn from comments made by an ex-colleague that it must have been something pretty serious. This ramps up the unease as we watch Maud fixate on Amanda, and begin her downward spiral.

Saint Maud has already garnered a lot of buzz from its few public screenings thus far, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a beautifully orchestrated character study that highlights issues around mortality, religion, and mental health. A film that has imagery that will genuinely haunt you for days, Saint Maud is a chilling and compelling psychological thriller that will unnerve and disturb you.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This review first appeared on THN. Saint Maud is available now on Amazon Prime, Digital HD, DVD and Blu-ray.